He has never scored a power-play goal in the National Hockey League and yet Jannik Hansen finds himself on the first line man-advantage unit alongside the Sedin twins as the Vancouver Canucks struggle through injuries and try to ignite their goal scoring.
Hansen is one of only a few Danes playing in the NHL. The 26-year-old winger was drafted in the ninth round by the Canucks in 2004, 287th overall and normally toils on the team’s third line. He has, however, been a solid part of the Canucks, especially the past two seasons, playing all 82 games each year, and he increased his production from nine goals and 29 points in 2010-11 to 16 goals and 39 points in 2011-12.
Still, his appearance on the Canucks’s first power-play unit on Wednesday at practice with the Sedin twins – in the absence of the injured Ryan Kesler – turned heads. It is a spot that might have been taken by David Booth, but the second-line winger injured his groin at the start of training camp and will be out as long as six weeks, or even other wingers like Mason Raymond or Chris Higgins.
Instead, coach Alain Vigneault is turning to Hansen – at least for now – in the effort to revive the Canucks powerplay, which had been the best in the league last season until early January and then collapsed as the team’s various strategies – especially the rush up the ice and using a drop pass to penetrate the zone – became obvious to competitors and was shut down. Against the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, the Canucks were 3-for-21 – and the only game Vancouver won was when the team notched two power-play goals.
Hansen, listed at 6 foot 1 and 195 pounds, is expected to fill Kesler’s role, providing a physical force, screens in front of the net and digging out pucks to feed to the Sedins. Hansen is almost as big as Kesler, and like Kesler has a right-hand shot, which head coach Alain Vigneault hopes helps the team to get the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone and also to pop open for potential one-timers on the power play. The Canucks practised various designs to carry the puck up the ice on Wednesday.
“You’re being put in a position to succeed and if you don’t, somebody else will be put in that situation,” said Hansen after practice Wednesday of the pressure to perform. “It’s a matter of me proving I belong there.”
The Canucks also need to get more pucks on net. Last season it seemed the limp power play simply never attacked the net, circling and circling, waiting for a perfect moment before the two-minutes had evaporated. Vigneault, in his first crack at a first-line power play, has defenceman Alex Edler and Jason Garrison on the points, Garrison a free-agent addition over the summer who brings a booming shot.
“You don’t want your power play to become predictable,” said Vigneault. “You want to have that shooting mentality.”
With two games at home this weekend, Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks and Sunday versus the Edmonton Oilers, the first kind-of test was set for Wednesday night, as the Canucks played a game-like scrimmage in front of an expected crowd of 10,000 people, who attended for free. Another match is set for Thursday night, with more than 12,000 people expected, to again see an intrasquad game – with goaltender Cory Schneider at one end of ice and Roberto Luongo at the other. Vancouver only had a handful of small-cog players in Europe during the lockout, Hansen among them, so for most of the team the scrimmages are the first tangible on-ice action since April 22.
The games, and game day in general, are meant to mimic the rhythms of the regular season in this preseason without exhibition games, something other teams such as the Montreal Canadiens have also planned. The Canucks, splitting their main roster in two, and also using players from their AHL affiliate, will play three 10-minute periods, ending with a shootout.
With two of their top-six forwards out, Kesler and Booth, the Canucks are somewhat undermanned, given the major need to get goal scoring going again.
“We’re going to need different guys to step,” captain Henrik Sedin said. “And it’s not going to be one guy to fill his shoes, it’s going to be a couple different guys.”
On the power play, Hansen will be one.
“I’ve always said he’s very underrated as an offensive player,” Sedin said. “He can make things happen out there and he’s got a great shot and is a good skater.”